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‘Chilled to death’: the human cost of cold homes

New research by ACE for the Energy Bill Revolution campaign has found that in the last five years, 46,700 people in the UK have died due to living in a cold home.

Our research used official data on Excess Winter Deaths.  This is an assessment of how many more people die in the winter than at other times of year. These deaths are primarily due to illnesses brought on by the cold.  It is estimated by the World Health Organisation that 30% of Excess Winter Deaths are due to people living in cold homes.

We found that since the coalition Government came to power in 2010:

  • 155,720 Excess Winter Deaths have occurred in the UK over the last five winters
  • Around 46,700 of these deaths in the last five winters are due to people living in cold homes
  • This winter will have seen the highest rate of Excess Winter Deaths and cold home deaths in the last five years. We estimate that there will have been 46,100 Excess Winter Deaths this winter, of which around 13,800 are due to people living in cold homes.
  • The average number of Excess Winter Deaths over the previous five years is 27,830, of which around 8,350 are due to cold homes. So this winter has seen an increase in Excess Winter Deaths of 66% above the average.

In 2013, in England and Wales, cold homes killed over four times as many people as road and rail accidents; nearly four times as many people as drug misuse; and about as many people as alcohol.

Cold housing is one of a number of important issues for public health and safety.  Focusing more resources on tackling this crisis does not mean taking resources away from tackling other health problems, such as those mentioned here.  In fact it may free up resources to address them.

Cold home deaths can be prevented by improving the energy efficiency of the UK’s draughty, leaky housing stock.  The UK Treasury has plans to spend £100 billion of public money on infrastructure over the course of the next Parliament.  Investing just 3% of this budget in making homes highly energy efficient, alongside existing energy efficiency budgets, can bring two million UK low income homes up to a high standard of energy efficiency (EPC Band C) by 2020. The Energy Bill Revolution is calling for all six million low income homes to be brought up to this standard by 2025.

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energy debt,Families,Fuel Poverty

Exposing the damaging impact of energy debt on children

ACE Research have been working with The Children’s Society to investigate the problem of energy debt for families.  Our research found that almost a million children are living in families in energy debt in the UK, and too often energy companies are not following their legal obligations to help these families.

Our new report, ‘Show Some Warmth: Exposing the damaging impact of energy debt on children’  reveals that four in 10 UK families with dependent children who faced energy debts felt intimidated by their energy company.  Nearly half (48%) of these families reported that they were not treated with respect or given the support they needed.  The impacts of energy debt can be severe; children in families that have faced this type of debt are significantly more likely to become ill in winter. Four in ten children in these families said they had trouble sleeping because their bedroom was too cold, while over half of parents in debt on their energy bills suffer from stress, anxiety or depression.

Energy companies are legally required to make sure they assess how much families can realistically afford to repay. They are also required to make it easy for customers to raise concerns, but too often this is not happening. The report highlights how all companies have good and bad energy debt practices, but no energy company is taking all the steps they should to protect children from the damaging effects of debt. The report calls on the Government to change the law so energy companies treat families with children as vulnerable customers, and to invest in energy efficiency improvements for low-income families.

Energy companies need to negotiate affordable debt repayment plans, including lowering or suspending debt repayments over the winter, when children’s health is most at risk. They also need to review staff training procedures, targets and call scripts so a flexible approach is taken with families. Energy companies should also offer a free helpline that customers can call from a mobile phone to raise concerns.

The report coincides with the launch of The Children’s Society’s Show Some Warmth campaign, which is part of its ongoing Debt Trap campaign.

Update: In spring 2015 we have been liaising closely with Ofgem, who are keen to take on board these findings and ensure vulnerable families get the support they need.  Among other ongoing changes, Ofgem have published an open letter regarding the Priority Services Register.  Drawing on our research, this states “We propose to add ‘families with children under 5’ as a “core” group eligible for the provision of safety services provided by network companies and are seeking views on this proposal.”  Comments can be submitted until 14 May 2015 to Bhavika Mithani: Bhavika.Mithani@ofgem.gov.uk.

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Families,Fuel Poverty,local area delivery

Reaching Fuel Poor Families: Final reports published

ACE Research has completed the project “Reaching Fuel Poor Families”, which was conducted in partnership with The Children’s Society and funded by Eaga Charitable Trust.

There are currently around 2.23 million children, in 1.08 million families, in fuel poverty (close to half the total number of households, as newly defined) in England. Fuel poverty has severe and long-lasting effects, including on children’s respiratory problems, mental health, hospital admission rates, developmental status, educational attainment and emotional well-being, among other impacts.  For these reasons, take-up of fuel poverty assistance among families is a key concern for policy-makers, service providers and energy companies.

Community-based approaches using trusted intermediaries can be a cost-effective way to engage vulnerable households. One group of local intermediaries is Sure Start Children’s Centres. There are around 3,116 Children’s Centres in England, often located in low-income areas. Our analysis has shown that an estimated 77% of fuel poor families live within one mile of a Children’s Centre. This means these centres offer a potentially valuable opportunity for engaging families with fuel poverty support.

This research project reviewed a range of fuel poverty schemes aimed at families, especially those run through Children’s Centres.  It also involved an in-depth evaluation of one specific scheme based in Mortimer House Children’s Centre, a centre in Bradford run by The Children’s Society.  Findings show that Children’s Centres can play a significant role in engaging fuel poor families, especially if schemes are long-term and work in partnership with other local organisations.  Based on this research, we make recommendations for how local authorities, government, energy companies and the third sector can support engagement with fuel poor families through Children’s Centres.

Further details can be found in the Reaching Fuel Poor Families Research Report or the executive summary.  A separate report provides recommendations for the Mortimer House scheme, and aims to inform the development of this work and a potential roll-out to other centres.

We have also produced a short policy briefing, and a delivery guide aimed at those in Local Authorities and other organisations who wish to provide fuel poverty assistance to families.

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Energy Policy,Families,Fuel Poverty

Reaching fuel poor families

TCSFamilies in fuel poverty are an important policy issue.  ACE research has shown that there are currently 2.23 million children, in 1.08 million families, in fuel poverty (close to half the total number of households, as newly defined) in England. Fuel poverty has severe and long-lasting effects, including on children’s respiratory problems, mental health, hospital admission rates, developmental status, educational attainment and emotional well-being, among other impacts.

Last year, ACE estimated that only 2.9% of energy assistance budgets would reach fuel poor families.  The recent “Behind Cold Doors” report by The Children’s Society showed that 1.9 million children living in poverty in the UK were in families that missed out on a Warm Home Discount (a key form of fuel poverty assistance) in 2013/14. For these reasons, take-up of fuel poverty assistance among families is a key concern for policy-makers, service providers and energy companies.

In this context, Eaga Charitable Trust is funding The Children’s Society and the Association for the Conservation of Energy to carry out the project “Reaching fuel poor families: Informing new approaches to promoting take-up of fuel poverty assistance among families with children”.  This research will review a range of fuel poverty schemes aimed at families, especially those run through Children’s Centres.  It will also involve an in-depth evaluation of one specific scheme based in Mortimer House Children’s Centre, a centre in Bradford run by The Children’s Society.

The project will provide recommendations for this specific scheme, and inform a potential roll-out to other centres.  It will also draw lessons of broader relevance to fuel poverty schemes aimed at families, to help in the design and delivery of effective programmes in future.

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Domestic Energy Consumption,Energy Saving,Heating

“Dragon-breath and snow-melt”: New article on know-how for keeping warm

What skills and know-how do people use to keep warm at home?  Where does this knowledge come from?  These questions are addressed in a new article by ACE researcher Sarah Royston, published in the journal Energy Research and Social Science.

Keeping warm at home means managing heat flows – making sure that heat is where it is needed, when it is needed.  In doing this, we interact with a wide range of objects, appliances and building features, from long-johns to loft insulation, and from hair-dryers to heat pumps.

Managing heat flows is something we do almost all the time, often without thinking much about it (by opening a window, or putting on a jumper, for example).  But many of the things we do to keep warm involve some kind of practical knowledge or know-how.  For example, we might know how to adjust the settings on a storage heater, programme the central heating,  or light a fire.  Equally we might know how to find and block draughts, or fashion an improvised bed-warmer from an old sock filled with rice.

This article explores the many kinds of know-how involved in keeping homes warm, and how these are learned through experience.  The senses are important here – for example, we might use visible “dragon breath” as an indicator of cold.  The article also looks at how changes such as moving house or having children can affect know-how, and reflects on what these ideas might mean for research, policy and practice on sustainable energy use.

You can read the full article (currently free) here.

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Energy Bill Revolution,Fuel Poverty

Burning Cash Day: 14th February

In the context of a growing political debate regarding the best way to cut energy bills, this briefing shows that a family could be wasting around 41% of their gas every year if they live in a typical fuel poor home, due to a low standard of energy efficiency. They could save 41% of their gas costs each year by installing energy efficiency measures. There are over 6.7 million homes in England (one in three) which have very poor levels of energy efficiency, representing an E, F or G rating on an Energy Performance Certificate. In England, 1.41 million fuel poor homes (more than half) fall into this category.

If a family turn their heating on at the start of October, then that 41% saving is the equivalent of all their gas costs from the 14th of February until the next October. If they installed efficiency measures, it would be like having free heating and hot water from the 14th of February onwards. We could say that everything they spend on gas after that date is wasted money – so the 14th of February is ‘Burning Cash Day’.

The savings from energy efficiency vary between different homes, so every home has its own Burning Cash Day. Even in a home which has an average level of energy efficiency (including at least some loft and cavity wall insulation) the family could still save 25% of their gas bill, through additional measures. This means that Burning Cash Day for this typical home is the 22nd of March.

The Energy Bill Revolution campaign is calling for major Government investment to provide energy efficiency measures for free for people in fuel poverty, and to provide subsidies for everyone else. It is proposed that this is paid for by recycling revenues from two carbon taxes that are paid by consumers – the European Emissions Trading Scheme and the Carbon Price Floor. Over the next 15 years the Government will raise an average of £4 billion every year in carbon taxes; this is enough revenue to insulate to a high degree an average of 600,000 fuel poor homes every year. In time, every household could benefit, and see major reductions in their energy bills.

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